Leftover celery stalks, carrot tops, and sliced-off Sukuma Wiki (Collard Greens) stems may seem like kitchen waste to some, but to many chefs who are embracing one of the hottest culinary trends – root-to-stalk cooking – they are culinary treasures, full of flavor and potential.
Root-to-stalk cooking refers to the practice of utilizing if not all, but most of a plant in the preparation of dishes. Voted as one of 2016’s top table service menu trends by a National Restaurant Association survey, the trend is the perfect example of how chefs are returning back to old concepts such as using as much of the produce as possible and not wasting anything in the kitchen.
Root-to-stalk cooking not only limits kitchen waste, reduces environmental impact, experiments with new flavours and textures; but also it’s about the economics – the less you throw away, the more money in your bank account.
Aside from the financial advantage, as consumers in Nairobi and the East Africa region become more critical of how their food is prepared, the more will want to know that the restaurants they frequent are also environmentally aware.
On the journey to sustainability, restaurants will begin to move away from offering large number of choices that often results in an overwhelming menu and a lot of food that goes to waste at the end of the evening. Instead, liken to the trend in other global dining destinations such as London, New York, Hong Kong and Toronto, there will be better restaurants cooking fewer things at a higher level.
Root-to-stalk cooking allows chefs to explore new flavor profiles and textures, which plays into the ‘experience’ of dining out. Liken to a visit to a gallery where everything is curated with the utmost care whilst challenging boundaries, the root-to-stalk approach pushes chefs to think outside the box.
Using vegetable scraps such as leek bottoms, carrot tops and even the outer leaves of cabbage can boost the flavours of stocks, soups and stews. For braises and roasts, try replacing traditional ingredients with leftover fennel stalks. In Tara Duggan’s Root-to-Stalk Cooking: The Art of Using the Whole Vegetable, the cookbook author features Chard Stalk Hummus with pureed chard instead of chickpeas.
Taking a creative spin on typical versions of dishes will surprise you when you dine out, but also even at home. If you have some great recipes on how to transform vegetable scraps into culinary delights, feel free to share them with me (Twitter: @SusanLuckyWong).